Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The general unemployment rate in Saudi Arabia has dropped by 1.4 percent, according to a study by the Kingdom’s General Statistics department and announced by the Labor Ministry last week.
According to the figures revealed by Saudi Deputy Labor Minister Abdul-Wahid al-Humayd, 76 percent of unemployed Saudi women, who represent 41 percent of total unemployed Saudis, are university graduates, while the educational qualifications of the majority of the unemployed, whose numbers exceed 236,000, do not exceed that of a high school degree.
The deputy labor minister commented on these figures by stressing that social conventions prevailing are among the chief obstacles that obstruct the employment of women in his country. He said: “There are social issues that obstruct the employment of Saudi women, and also there are social conventions, whose bases are not necessarily religious, but they vary from one region to another and from one province to another.”
Al-Humayd was pleased with the Labor Ministry’s ability to bring the unemployment rates among his male compatriots below the 9.8 percent barrier, after they were 11.2 percent. He considers the 9.8-percent rate close to the unemployment rates in many of the world countries.
However, the problem that faces the Labor Ministry officials is that the majority of unemployed males have dropped out of school after obtaining their High School degrees, “a problem that might restrict these people to certain jobs.”
Al-Humayd stressed that his ministry is continuing to reduce the rates of unemployment among the ranks of the citizens of his country. He says: “The Labor Ministry during the past period has been trying to utilize the prosperity period witnessed by the Saudi economy to create job opportunities for the Saudis.”
Those managing the private sector are afraid of the high costs they might have to pay to employ women, because of what this would require reorganizing the work environment, and allocating special places for women.
However, the Saudi deputy labor minister considers otherwise. He stresses that experiments have proved that the revenues of employing women are greater than the costs expected by the employer or proprietor of the establishment.
The economic leap forward witnessed by Saudi Arabia these days has led to a reduction in the percentage of Saudization in the government projects from 30 percent to 5 percent. Regarding this step Al-Humayd said that they are in response to the requirements of the current development witnessed by the country.
In Saudi Arabia there are close to 7 million foreign workers. The deputy labor minister says that the existence of this large number “is a confusing fact for any reform directed at this market. Our unemployment is different, because we have millions of empty posts as against hundreds of thousands of applicants.”
The Saudi deputy minister highlighted the dangers of relying on foreign manpower, and underscores the dangers of the strikes and protests that took place in some Gulf countries. Within the same context, he warns that foreign workers might at some moment in time implement “calculations that are not compatible with the higher interests of the country.”
Al-Humayd calls for opening the field in a bigger way for citizens. He says that the Saudi citizen “is more worthy and more deserving to work, not only for economic reasons, but also for social, cultural, and security reasons.”
Al-Humayd added, “We ought to give the Saudis job opportunities so that we do not at any moment in time reach the stage of depending completely on foreign workforce that might find job opportunities in its countries, and hence leave Saudi Arabia; this is happening in India, which is developing, and hence many qualified and semi-qualified Indian engineers have started to return to India.”
The Saudi official points out a decision in whose light his ministry works, which specifies that the share of any nationality should not exceed a certain percentage so that the labor market does not become mortgaged to this nationality in case a situation occurs that requires the departure or return of the workers of this nationality to their country.
Al-Humayd appreciates the gravity of the labor disturbance that occurred in some Gulf countries. He says that what happened there was a subject of concern in his country.
Al-Humayd highlighted that there are discussions and understandings among the Gulf countries about specifying the age of the foreign labor force brought in, and the period of its stay in the country. He says that the Gulf ministers of labor and social affairs have studied this issue in Geneva on the sidelines of the International Labor Conference, and now coordination is taking place with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to implement the recommendations reached by the ministers.
Domestically, the deputy labor minister revealed that the final draft of the national strategy for employment is being discussed at the Supreme Economic Council, and that the ratification of the strategy is merely a matter of time. He points out that the bases of the strategy include that the Saudis would have jobs that are valuable in their environment, conditions, and financial return.